My seven year-old daughter wears her heart on her sleeve. Unfortunately, wearing your heart in such a vulnerable place leaves it open for getting damaged, broken, or lost. In most pockets of my life, I keep my heart safely tucked away, where no one can find it and hurt it. Not my girl. She puts it right out there, showing it to and sharing it with anyone who needs it.
She’s the girl who cries when cartoon animals are mistreated.
She cries at the thought of squirrels being cold in the winter.
She cries at funerals for people she doesn’t know.
She cries when she hears an ambulance, for fear that a stranger is terribly hurt.
She cries when she thinks of Jesus’ love for her.
But, with all of those tears, and all of those feelings, she is not deterred.
This past weekend, we celebrated my youngest stepson’s birthday. My daughter is crazy about birthdays. She plans and obsesses over them, wanting each detail to be perfect for the birthday boy or girl.
She labored over which decorations to buy, and which gift he wanted most. She spent her money on two very thoughtful gifts and wrapped them with love and the great delight of one who loves to give more than receive.
She meticulously hung streamers and filled balloons, all the while, chiding him like a mother hen to “not come out until it’s ready.” She asked me a dozen times “do you think he’ll like it, Mommy?” with her eyes shining at the thought of making his day special.
When it was perfect, and she was ready to reveal her hard work, she led him by the hand, begging him to keep his eyes closed tightly until she told him to open them. When he did, she exclaimed “Happy birthday!”
He looked up, surveyed her work and said: “Can we go play now?” Now, you have to understand—he is seven, and he is a little boy. He wasn’t trying to be rude or hurt her feelings. He was just in the middle of something and was annoyed at being pulled away from it. Not an unnatural response—and not a response I haven’t had myself, more than once.
I gasped a little and looked at my daughter, expecting the tears to come. Instead, she hopped from foot to foot, grinning widely and said “I knew you would love it! We wanted it to be perfect!” The gift of her heart and her love for her brother didn’t leave any room for hurt feelings, or bitterness or feeling unappreciated.
When he unwrapped his gifts later, she could hardly wait for him to unwrap hers. He thanked her, and it was as if he had handed her the keys to a brand new car. Here I am, sitting there wondering why he isn’t more aware of how much thought she put into his birthday, feeling offended on her behalf, and there she is—fearlessly putting her heart out there.
As a parent, I worry about what I am teaching my kids. Am I teaching them to grow in their faith? To learn the value of hard work? To be kind? In my worrying, I completely miss what they teach me. I’m envious of my daughter’s heart. While I work so hard to protect it for her, she just opens it more and more. It scares me to know how deeply she could be hurt with such a tender heart. How quickly I forget that Jesus is watching over her and blessing her sweet love for others. When her heart does get broken, He gently picks it up, as only He can, and makes it new again.
I want a heart like that. Covered in the scars of loving people. No room for feeling unappreciated or rejected or misunderstood. Consumed by love for others, no matter how much it hurts.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
I was in New York City this week to meet with customers. I love NYC—especially this time of year. The storefronts on 5th Ave are brimming with Christmas cheer, and there’s a crispness in the air that signals the subtle change from fall to winter.
As much as I love the city, I always empty my purse of all but the necessities, just in case. Hey—I don’t want to replace my prescriptions, my Costco card, and every single discount card I own in the event of a mugging. Nope! Ain’t nobody got time for that. I carry my ID, my corporate card and the earbuds that I always have in place (but with nothing playing through them so that the solicitors leave me alone. Oh, yeah. Midwesterner street smarts, you guys. I got ‘em.). Go ahead and steal my purse full of zero things, muggers. Joke’s on you.
This visit came on the heels of the terrorist attacks on Paris. I talked to my children about what had happened. They were fearful that terrorists could come to our city. I agreed that it’s possible. Wide-eyed, they asked what we can do about it. I told them that all we can do is just live our lives and refuse to let fear take hold. We know who holds our future, and He wants nothing but the best for us. Even it is something we can’t possibly understand in this lifetime, we don’t need to understand it. We aren’t meant to.
While I was in New York, I had meetings in Times Square. I met a friend at a restaurant packed with people. I walked around Manhattan enjoying the sights and sounds and peculiarities only found in New York. Even in the midst of uncertainty, life goes on if you allow it.
One of my customers is in an office across the street from where the World Trade Center once stood. When I visit them, I sit there, looking out the window and wondering how they ever got the courage to come back to work–to that building, across from two charred, empty holes in the ground. I am not sure I could have been so brave so soon.
I had one moment of panic when I walked from my hotel to grab a slice of pizza in Hell’s Kitchen. I was walking through one of those dimly lit, graffiti-addled construction labyrinths when I came around the corner, and someone grabbed my ankle. I screamed, but no one came running. I was all alone in the dark—I thought. I looked down, and a homeless gentleman (clearly as panicked as I was) stared up at me in surprise. I woke him up with my loud footsteps, and he was afraid I would step on him in the dark. We didn’t exchange a word. He let go of me, and I kept walking. He has no idea how close he came to getting kicked in the face. (B and I are avid Walking Dead fans, and I was channeling Rick Grimes for just a split second. You go for the brain stem when someone grabs you. It’s just what you do.)
I took the long way back to my hotel, and my heart pounded for what felt like hours.
When terror is thousands of miles away, it’s easy to tell your kids that even in the worst case, if tragedy finds its way to our doorstep, we will awake in the presence of God. It’s another thing if it actually finds your family. Would I be able to hand my children over to God without resenting Him for taking them? I thought a lot this week about what I tell my kids about our confidence in the future and the contradiction that is often in my heart.
My last night in New York, I decided not to take the long way around the construction walkway. I walked right through it, with the intention of finding that man, not stepping on him, and apologizing for scaring him half to death. More for me than for him, honestly. He wasn’t there, but it didn’t seem quite so terrifying when I walked into the darkness with intention instead of trepidation.
I want to be smart in this life, but I want to be brave. I want to trust Jesus so completely that no matter what comes, I walk through it with intention, compassion and confidence in His plan for my life.
(I’ll still empty my purse when I need to, though. That limited-edition MAC lipstick isn’t going to replace itself.)
I’ve played the piano since I was 4. It started as a way to make my older brother look bad. He also played, and hated practicing. I, too, hated practicing, but you’d never know in those early days. I’d grit my teeth and exclaim “Mommy, can I play some more? I loooooove to practice!” while my brother would roll his eyes and pantomime threats in my direction.
As I got older, I realized that I genuinely did love to play the piano, and I stuck with it. It was my talent during my years of participation in the Miss America program, I’ve been the pianist for both churches I’ve attended in my adult life, and it’s still the most liberating, cathartic outlet for the blues that I have ever found.
I’m often asked to accompany singers and other musicians for various things. I’ll labor over the music, keenly aware that one wrong note could throw off the whole thing. I want to do a good job for the person who asked me to accompany them, so I worry, and I fret and I practice my fingers to the bone. Even with 30 years of experience as a pianist, and with the love I have of music in general, I still worry that my accompaniment won’t be good enough, and I’ll somehow disappoint the person who is depending on me to perform to the best of my ability.
As is the case with most accompanists, I make it through the performance fine, pleased with the way it turned out, and proud to have been part of it. This moment is when I have to remember consciously that despite my hours of practice and worry, and despite the investment I may have in the music—right down to my soul, that I am just a player in the background. My job is to accompany the person who needs me, step back, and applaud along with the audience when it’s over.
I can choose to feel like chopped liver, or I can choose to cheer for the people who need me.
As a stepmom (and as a parent in general), it’s so tempting to feel slighted when you’re working so hard for the good of your family, and it seems to go unrecognized and unappreciated. When you plan and fund an activity you know will create lifelong memories for someone, and they don’t even want to you to be there to enjoy it with them, it hurts. When you plan meals you know someone will like, and you are met only with sharp, nitpicky criticism, it hurts.
At those moments, I can either choose to be resentful or relentless. As a musician, I will never stop striving to be the best accompanist I can be for the person who needs me. As a mom and stepmom, I will count it a privilege to have people who truly depend on me—even when I might want to shake them a little bit. I don’t need the applause. I need my kids to have the confidence that they are loved, cared for and worth working hard for. At the end of it, when they are grown and making their own way through life, I’ll be standing in the background, applauding for them more loudly than anyone.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Corinthians 13:4-7
Sometimes the accompaniment is the most important part. You are doing good work, parents.